Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2-Day EuroPenang Tour

At Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

On the way to Penang…

The trip to Butterworth, the entry point to Penang Island, took us more or less 8 hours, from supposedly 6 to 7 hours. This was because an accident happened on the expressway before us. A trailer truck careened to the highway walls, crushed itself to several concrete boulders, turned upside down covering all but one lane. I observed paramedics prepping the stretchers while others were laboriously opening the trucker’s door to pull out bodies in the front seats. That delay served me well that I was able to find some sleep because I planned to layover for few hours yet had we arrived in the bus station early.

Khoo Kongsi

It was around 6am when the bus parked at the Butterworth Central Terminal. I made some rounds to check whether some bus lines have route to Georgetown in Penang Island. Few minutes passed and I have not seen one. I only observed people climbing the stairs towards the ferry boat. So I asked one bus operator who pointed me out that there is no commuter bus from Butterworth to Georgetown but only the ferry. I had the impression that since there is a long bridge connecting Penang island to the mainland Malaysia, a bus route is now existent. So I climbed sleepily the stairs and walked the platform to the ferry boat. I noticed people approaching the counter with markings MYR1.40. I handed the teller 1 ringgit bill and as I was about to give him 40 cents, he handed me back two 50 cents. I grabbed it and realized that the machinated entrance will only accept MYR1.40 in coins. I fed the whole with the coins and got in. I simply joined the other passengers in the bench and waited for the ferry to dock in the other end. It was around 10 to 15 minutes later when we disembarked at Georgetown Jetty Port Terminal.
A European-designed hotel

When I reached the grounds, I noticed several Rapid Penang buses queuing in what appeared to be a bus station. Rapid Penang is the only public utility bus in the island but it’s very organized and reliable. It serves like an interconnected train lines in many advanced cities. There are route boards around to guide the tourist where to go and what bus number to ride corresponding to the selected tourist destination. It was too early for me to start the tour; I needed a map of the city and the island first. I did not know what brought me but I found myself taking the bus marked CAT. Well, I have read about this free shuttle bus ride within and around Georgetown. Indeed, it is the CAT-marked buses that offer free shuttle ride. I was more fortunate to ride with and meet Bob and his wife, who noticed me to be tourist and started conversing in Malay. I told him I only speak English and I came from the Philippines. They went ecstatic and spoke to me in English and guided me more in this free downtown tour. They generously pointed to me those potential cheap guesthouses I should check in. I knew later during our conversation in the middle of the bus tour that Bob was an exchange student of Ateneo de Manila University – Loyola Schools, when he took his graduate school at La Salle in Asia in Georgetown, Penang. Bob called me Cri while his wife correctly pronounced my name Cris. They both have stayed in Quezon City for a month and have experienced heavy traffic back home. They generously accompanied me until I completed the turn and the downtown tour until and we bid each other goodbyes.

Hindu temple

Once they departed on the same shuttle bus, I decided to make a second turn while waiting for the check in time at 2pm. I was not yet sure where to stay despite the fact that I already noted the Tune Hotel’s direction during the joyride. I traced back the bus’ route by walking on opposite direction. I enjoyed capturing the European-designed building structures and landmarks in photos, especially at this breaking hours of the morning. Penang, particularly Georgetown, made me feel like making a ala-Europe tour, from the facades of the Maritime Museum, the Royal Penang, the Victorian Clock Tower, the City Hall, and St. George Church. I walked the whole stretch of the so-called Harmony Street (a portion of Penang Road), from the point I made a selfie at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Chocolate House and Museum, until I reached the KOMTAR building and mall, my reference point for the Tune Hotel.

Along Jalan Burma on my way to the hotel, I passed by a Camera Museum, a Muslim mosque and a Chinese Temple. I booked an airconditioned room for MYR103; more expensive than I expected. Per my plan, I must spend less than MYR100 for the room accommodation per night. But I guess one night experience of Tune Hotel’s accommodation, which was my very first time, won’t hurt. But definitely I would never patronize Tune Hotels, not even recommend it to my friends. Its services come in piecemeal or like “sachets” wherein you pay for each particular service or amenity, like aircon, wifi access, towel, TV, et cetera. As for me, I may not use all these amenities at the same time but at least I have them for my own choosing to enjoy my stay whenever I am inside the room. Even the luggage deposit comes with a price. Should you need all of the amenities and supplies, you would pay as much as paying an accommodation in some good 3 or 4-star hotels.

Find this mosque on top of Penang Hill

One Fine Day in Penang…

After depositing my backpack for MYR5, I went back to KOMTAR and found a hawker spot fitting for my cravings for breakfast. Later I found a Chinese temple, called Khoo Kongsi, in front of it, along Penang Road and so I dropped by to get beautiful photos. I went back to Jetty point to take a bus heading to Penang Hill, after quite a while waiting at the bus stop, along the temple’s sidewalk, for Bus 204. It followed a different route so it did not pass by Penang Road where I stood earlier waiting for it. The commute cost me MYR3 and in more or less 30 minutes I was at the foot of Penang Hill. That was yet 10am but I already noticed plenty of tourists climbing in and out of the tram.

The monorailway in Penang Hill

Reaching Penang Hill is through a tram, a single coach tram, which ticket cost MYR30.  Up there I found more postcard perfect spots. I climbed the highest portion of the hill where I found a Buddhist temple neighbored with a Muslim mosque and a Christian church. They all looked like miniatures but lifesized; putting them side by side is a complete representation of what Penang really is, a perfect place of harmony. I took selfies with each of them before climbing down. I also took my selfies at the exhibited old tram, at the lover’s lane atop the food court where love notes and padlocks on a chain are tied together in a fashionable way, and an owl museum’s façade. After that tiring climbs, I settled in one high chair inside the foodcourt and ordered an avocado fruitshake.

Penang Hill tour

I got back to the hotel in time for the 2pm check in. I made sure to drop by the KOMTAR’s electronics section to purchase the right adaptor for my battery charger, which only cost MYR6.90. I was shocked to find it sold at the 7-11 store located at the ground floor of Tune Hotel for MYR30. I finally had the room, so I climbed up my room with my backpack, plugged in my battery chargers, get showered and took a nap. I woke up at little past 5pm and headed to the location of this European-designed building resided solely by McDo beside Penang Time Square. There, I finally got online, first time of the day. I was thrilled to update my Facebook status and leave private messages to my family informing them of my trip condition and current location – my ritual at least once a day.

Then I realized I had planned to capture photos of Kek Lok Si Temple at the last hour of the afternoon, known to photographers as blue hour. Dusk time would be perfect for this awesome, elaborate and gigantic Buddhist temple. I took the Rapid Penang Bus 204 again, which crisscrossed around the communities and villages first before reaching the base area of the temple. The temple is set atop Air Itam’s hill. It was past 7pm when I reached the site and found it closed since 6:30pm. Fortunately, I talked my way in to a Bangladeshi I met at the main entrance. He was pulling down the bar closing the parking spaces. He agreed to give me access inside, but only up to the base area of the giant statue, at the peak. I found most areas around the huge temple to be under renovation, so most of the scenic sites were blocked with plastic covers, steel scaffoldings and concrete barriers. I tried to get some beautiful shots out of these restrictions and marvelled at the sight of Georgetown down the hill blinking like stars in the night in different colors.

Kek Lok Si Temple

As I find my way back, I waited for a very long while at Air Itam Public Market for a Rapid Penang Bus number 203 that flew back to the town proper. I later decided to take any bus number that will pass anytime now for as long as it’ll take be back to Georgetown. But none came. Not even an empty taxi passed here by. I noticed one bus passing by at the other end of market, but it looked empty; guess it was heading towards its headquarters. I thought of walking the whole way back. I transferred from one point of the wet market to another until finally at 9:30pm, Bus 201 passed by. Thank God I was boarded and heading back to the hotel.

Chuliah Street where most backpackers' inns can be found

My thought changed when I reached the Penang Times Square, I went looking for night spots to experience Penang’s nightlife. There were couple of bars in its basement but felt very cold and empty. I proceeded to the KOMTAR Walk only to find most shops closed; some bars were still open but looked to me to be drab and empty. I guessed there’s not much for a Tuesday night in the city. So I decided to return to Tune Hotel only to find the neighboring New World Park open, crowded in a positive way, and in party mood. There were plenty of bars around, including a Starbucks and an Old Town Coffee and Restaurant. I ditched the Starbucks and looked for a seat inside the Old Town Coffee and Restaurant instead. I ordered their signature dish and white coffee. Then I retired so full that very late night.

Lover's Lane on top of Penang Hill

One Bad Day in Penang…

Had a nice sleep with Tune Hotel, despite the fact that I didn’t like the accommodation package being served on a piecemeal. To order all amenities and supplies would cost one a fortune, which I would end up paying for a comparable luxurious accommodation. I did have a nice sleep despite the fact that the AC unit stopped working, maybe I was so tired of the trip and the tour to mind the warmness of the room. So I decided to check out at 10am and transferred to Hotel 118, a hostel-type accommodation near Penang Time Square I checked last night after spending dinner and browsing the free internet access at McDo. At Hotel 118, I booked for the same double occupancy quality bed, with mattress and duvet as that of the Tune Hotel’s with a room rate that was reasonably lower and covered all amenities, from aircon, TV, wifi access, bathroom supplies, and even the complimentary bottled water than that of the Tune Hotel’s. I paid MYR90 for the hotel-type comfort.

Most British colony have Victorian Clock Tower

Well, to start my day early I put on my slippers and had a morning walk around Georgetown retracing once again the roads I’ve been to yesterday. But I tried new roads like Lebuh Chulia and noticed plenty of backpackers’ accommodations. The primary tourist destinations, from temples to mosques to fortress, from little India to Cantonese settlements, and to major city streets where most structures are European-designed structures, deserved a second look and be enjoyed over and over again. Before completing the rounds in Fort Cornwallis, my feet hurts at the friction with my new Islander slipper. So I decided to find a nearby hawker to take a break for my hurting feet and take breakfast with locals. I bought this rice topped with viand wrapped inside the banana leaf and a “kopi panas”. Then I walked to the adjacent ferry terminal where the CAT-labelled hop-on hop-off bus for the free ride back to the hotel or at a stop close to Tune Hotel. I washed up and then checked out. Walked towards Penang Time Square and checked in at Hotel 118.

Masjid means mosque

At first it seemed that one night extension to stay in Penang was a bad idea. After having settled in Hotel 118, after having found it more comfy than Tune Hotel, I felt like staying inside the room, with functioning aircon, cable TV set, and free wifi access. But then I still have six more tourist spots to check that would require travel by Rapid Penang Bus since they are all located outside Georgetown.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

First up was Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, so I boarded bus number 101. Then the heavy rain fell and more heavily when I was about to go down the bus stop near the said temple along Lorong Burma. I ran fast to find a shed in the bus stop cottage as soon as I exited the bus’ door. After almost an hour passed, the rain did not dissipate, not a slightest indication of stopping. I was already feeling wet, my shoes and my pants were feeling sodden. I thought of going back to the city when I noticed that I only had MYR2 left as the smallest bills with few more cents in coins. I knew for a fact that the drivers here don’t change large bills. Further, that side of the road I was at was one way and I need to go to the other side of the block to catch the returning trips. With the unremitting heavy pouring of rains, crossing the other street is not a good option.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

After several minutes more, I finally decided to push my luck with the remaining MYR2.90. I hailed the approaching Bus 101 and told the driver to drop me at the Toy Museum. “How much?” I asked and he answered MYR2.70. Perfect! Thank God! I will surely find a place somewhere there to change my MYR10 to MYR1 bills. The surroundings became darker, rains pouring heavier, flooding some portions of the roads around. I looked out of the window to check the road signs for Toy Museum until we passed by the Floating Mosque. I said to myself, I am close now. But then the road went on and on and no sign to indicate the location of the Toy Museum on either sides. Not until I reached, I mean the bus reached the landmark for Batu Ferringhi that I realized I already lost my way. I hailed the bus and went down at Penang Batik Factory and faked for sightseeing. Inside the store, while circling blankly around all stuffs made of batiks, from RTW to home decors, from personal to souvenir stuffs, I formed a thought of walking under the drizzles and catch any returning bus 101. But I still did not have small ringgit bills. So I walked the wet outdoor and found an eatery at the corner facing the center isle landmark. I ordered chicken rice again, paid the bill, and finally got the small bills. With the rain finally dissipating, I walked the distance to the nearest bus stop. I felt like blending with the locals, sort of living and eating like them. I ate in the nearby hawkers where residents flocked, ate local recipes, drank local coffee. It was already casual to me to ask for “tandas” to mean toilet and order “kopi panas” to mean hot coffee.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

On my way back on board Rapid Penang bus, I kept my eyes open and vigilant to note the location of the Toy Museum I missed on my way in. But still no sign of it; I again passed by the floating mosque, while it was indicated in the city map that the museum is just around another corner from the mosque. So I gave up, guess I should miss the Toy Museum this time; at least I have still reason to go back to Penang. Then I noticed this golden obelisk along Lorong Burma. Despite the fact that I paid MYR4 for the trip straight to KOMTAR Mall, I called on the driver to drop me at the nearest stop. I walked back to where that golden obelisk was last spotted.  Much to my surprise, I found in there these two very beautiful temples opposite each other. I started with the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple and I lost time taking photos over and over, again and again for each angle and every point of this very elaborate, very rich in culture, very unique temple that I want to stay there for the whole day. This pissed me to be reminded of my failed attempt to reach this spot and started the tour earlier that was when the rain poured heavily and interrupted my planned day. But I cannot stay much longer because the eve was fast approaching and I still have another temple to marvel on. I crossed the street to the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Temple, aka the reclining Buddha Thai temple, another very flamboyant and intricate in design both interior and exterior which made me said to myself that I would be a great experience to be Buddhist even for just a very short time. It compensated my tiring day, it recovered my bad day. It was not a bad day after all.

Wat Chaya Mangkalaram: Sleeping Buddha Temple

To celebrate my last night in the island, I resumed my search for a nightlife. I withdrew my desire for drinking liquor since the spots I checked in the basement of Penang Time Square, the so-called Entertainment City during Wednesday’s Ladies night, so I treated myself to an expensive dinner at James Foo Western Food with a delicious beef steak. Sadly, they don’t serve rice but bread. Nevertheless, I retired that night full and satisfied. Although I have the desire to go find nightlife at Chulia Street for the affordable drinks and share gigs with other tourists, but the rain poured that night and ruined my plan. So I stayed in my room, packed my things up for tomorrow's trip out of Penang, and called the night’s off.

Very elaborate structures around Wat Chaya Mangkalaram

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